Saturday, April 19, 2008

Expand Your Literary Horizons with B.S. Johnson

I just returned from a week-long trip to find my copy of B.S. Johnson's The Unfortunates waiting for me--a nice homecoming present. The "book" is a small box holding many smaller pamphlets with the following note printed on the inside cover of the box:

This novel has twenty-seven sections, temporarily held together by a removable wrapper. Apart from the first and last sections (which are marked as such) the other twenty-five sections are intended to be read in random order. If readers prefer not to accept the random order in which they receive the novel, then they may re-arrange the sections into any other random order before reading.

Very intriguing. The attractive robin's-egg-blue-and-brown box is about the size of a small hardcover book. The 27 sections range in length from 2 to 12 pages. The back cover of the box reads:

One of the lost classics of the 1960s--and a legendary experiment in form--is appearing here in the U.S. for the first time.

A sportswriter, sent to a Midlands town on a weekly assignment, finds himself confronted by ghosts from the past when he disembarks at the railway station. Memories of one of his best, most trusted friends, a tragically young victim of cancer, begin to flood through his mind as he attempts to go about the routine business of reporting a soccer match.

B.S. Johnson's famous "book in a box," in which the chapters are presented unbound, to be read in any order the reader chooses, is one of the key works of a novelist now undergoing an enormous revival of interest. It is a book of passionate honesty and dark, courageous humor: a meditation on death and a celebration of friendship which also offers a remarkably frank self-portrait of its author.

I am looking forward to reading The Unfortunates, and I will post a review once I finish it. I encourage anyone interested in the health of literary publishing in the U.S. to pick this up (an on-line source is likely the best bet for an unusual book like this). Publishing risks like this one should be celebrated and rewarded.

2 comments:

Brianna Hair Haggard said...

This sounds really interesting! I can't wait to read your review.

Table Talk said...

This reminds me of a number of plays by the UK playwright, Alan Ayckbourn where the characters spin a coin to decide which of the scenes will be played and in which order. In one there are thirty-two scenes and only the first and last have to be in place, the others can come in any order. Go on two nights and you would see two very different plays.